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THE EARLY STRUGGLES AND EXCESSES OF THE POPEDOM.
Di voi pastor s' accorse 'l Vanglista,
DANTE, Inferno, xix. 106–8.
You pastors the Evangelist had in mind,
Full in his sight defiled herself with kings.'
AMONG the Teutonic tribes which overran and divided the Western Empire, the Franks held the highest and most conspicuous place, through the extent of their conquests, the permanence of their possession, and the perpetual renovation of their national vigour. The Burgundians soon became their subjects, as the Lombards afterwards did. The Ostrogoth conquerors of Italy were soon overthrown by the Eastern emperors, and replaced by the Lombards; the Visigoth masters of Spain erelong fell before the Arabs. Neither Italy nor Spain became Gothland; but Gaul became Frankenland, or France, as Britain became England.
The French monarchy was older than the papacy. Clovis led his Franks into Gaul about 480, a few years after the Western Empire came to an end, and established his kingdom there, while the Roman bishops were obedient subjects of Theodoric the Great. His descendants, the long-haired Merovingians, gradually degenerated, and at the beginning of the eighth century sank into utter impotence. But his people did not partake the degeneracy of his house. A race of heroes arose to lead the Franks forth to battle, and to govern in the name of their powerless kings. As mayors of the palace, Pepin of Heristal, his son Charles Martel, and the son of Charles, Pepin the Short, utterly effaced their sovereigns, and were the mighty men of Western Christendom, from which they beat back the onrushing tide of Islam. In 732 Charles Martel smote
and scattered, at Tours, the Mohammedan conquerors of Spain, who had overrun half France, and drove them back over the Pyrenees. He and his sons, Carloman and Pepin, made great conquests in Germany, and furthered much the spiritual conquests of Boniface. But these heroic Franks were not the only great men of their time. The eighth century, though in truth a dark age, had somewhat less gloom and deadness than its immediate predecessor and successor. It was thronged by mighty events, and yielded some mighty men.
The Carolingian heroes of the West had for their contemporaries in the East those great Isaurian Cæsars, Leo and Constantine, who reinvigorated the State and sought to purify the Church, those bafflers of Islam and breakers of images. At the very time that Charles Martel became chief of the Franks (715), Leo became emperor of the East (716); and as the Saracens were for the first time put to shame before the Isaurian iconoclast under the walls of Constantinople (718), so they endured their second great defeat when they were smitten and crushed beneath the mighty Hammer of the Franks on the field of Tours (732). Two great kings, Luitprand and Astolf, uplifted the Lombards in Italy, while England furnished the spiritual potentate of the time in Boniface, archbishop of Mentz, the great saint and martyr of the eighth century. Earnest and energetic pontiffs, Gregory II., Gregory III., Zachary, Stephen II., exalted the Roman See. And imperial iconoclasts, chiefs of France, Lombard kings, and English missionaries, had all dealings, friendly or unfriendly, with these popes, were connected with each other through their connection with the Roman See, which rebelled against Leo and Constantine, went to war with Luitprand and Astolf, courted Pepin, and employed Boniface.
The popes were now predominant in Christendom and supreme in Rome; but Rome had dangerous neighbours in the Lombards, whose hostility became more formidable after the breach with the East, and who threatened the capture of the city separated from the empire, and the subjection of the bishop in conflict with his sovereign. The popes employed their power over Christendom for the preservation of their authority in Rome; their spiritual influence upheld and enlarged their temporal dominion. King Astolf took Ravenna from the Eastern emperor, and then led his Lombards against the rebellious Roman bishop. The pontiffs looked across the Alps, invoked
the sword of the Franks to break the sword of the Lombards, and as audaciously tested the credulity, as they were earnestly bent upon testing the valour, of that warlike race.1
Then began that singular connection between Rome and France which has endured through eleven centuries, and is as conspicuous in the nineteenth as it was in the eighth century. The Franks consulted the pontiff as to the disposal of their crown; the pontiff besought the aid of the Franks for the maintenance of his power. Pope Zachary approved of the transfer of their throne from its nominal occupant, the powerless Childeric, the last of the long-haired Merovingians, to its substantial possessor, the wise and valiant Pepin (751), and Pope. Stephen II. crossed the Alps to crown and anoint the new monarch (753). The grateful Carolingian king crossed the Alps for the rescue of Rome and her bishop, vanquished the Lombards, and bestowed upon Stephen much of the territory comprised in the late States of the Church (755). Thus the second French dynasty was enthroned to the double advantage of the Roman bishops, who got as much by giving as by receiv– ing—they received a principality and conferred a crown; they became at once kings and king-makers.2
Another Roman pontiff fell out with another Lombard king; again the Franks poured down from the Alps; the kingdom of the Lombards fell before the mighty son of Pepin, and Charles the Great and Adrian I. made their triumphant entry into Rome together in 774. Twenty-six years after, the conqueror of so
1 Epistolæ Stephani II., apud Concilia, tom. xvii. A most extraordinary invocation is that begging letter (ep. v. p. 559), despatched to Pepin and his warriors by Pope Stephen II. when besieged in Rome by Astolf, a composition not unworthy of the elaborate irony of Gibbon (ch. xlix.). St. Peter himself takes up the pen, and bestows a familiar epistle upon the Frankish princes. His anxiety is intense, his importunity is passionate. He feels especial hatred against the wicked Lombards, and takes especial delight in the pious Franks. He refers the victories of the latter to his active intervention in their behalf, and has still greater benefits in store for them if they will only rush to his rescue, and hints at woes and plagues if they won't. To the Protestants who look upon the papacy as an almost unmixed blessing during the dark ages, this letter is a sufficient answer. If it may have done some social and political good, it was then, as it is now, a flagrant spiritual corruption. This astonishing epistle, though prevalent with Pepin, did not take with all the Franks, whose extreme reluctance to rescue St. Peter, mentioned by Eginhard (cap. 6), may have in a measure arisen from their sense of the effrontery of the invitation.
2 Baronius, an. 751, n. 1–9; an. 753, n. 16, 17; an. 755, passim. Annales Rerum Francarum, apud Eginhardum, an. 749–56. Eginhardus, Vita Karoli Magni, c. 1, who has set before us by a few masterly and memorable strokes the last Merovingian do-nothing.
many nations, the lord of the West, again descended into Italy, and marched into Rome as the avenger and restorer of another pontiff, Leo III., accused of enormous crimes by personal enemies, deposed at the instigation of a rival, and wounded in the fury of a sedition. The Romans bowed before the will of the mighty conqueror; the maimed and slandered pope took oath of his innocence before his illustrious protector; and on Christmasday, 800, Leo III. placed the imperial crown on the head of Charles the Great, and hailed him Emperor of the Romans.3 The Western Empire reappeared. The pontiff and the Cæsar stood side by side, most strangely and confusedly bound together, each depending upon the other, each at once the master and the servant of the other, the pope a subject of the emperor whom he had made, the emperor the sovereign of his own creator. The Roman bishop rebelled against his Byzantine master, and made himself a Teutonic master, professed to transfer all the rights, powers, and dignities of the emperor of the Romans, including sovereignty over himself, from the direct successor of Julius Cæsar, that dwelt at Constantinople, to a German king, took into his own hands the bestowal of that Roman Empire which came into being about the same time as that Christian Church into the topmost place whereof he had thrust himself, and professed to consecrate the dignity which he transferred. That power, loosely and incorrectly known as the German Empire, but officially and correctly designated as the Holy Roman Empire-that power which lasted more than a thousand years, from 800 to 1806, which held the foremost place in medieval Europe, and which maintained the highest conventional and official rank to a period within the memory of men now living, of which Napoleon I. made an end, and of which Francis II. of Austria was the last head-this power claimed to represent and continue the old heathen Roman Empire, and of this power the popes claimed to have the disposal and consecration, reckoned this coronation of Charlemagne among the great expressions and title-deeds of their supremacy, and held up this transfer of the Roman Empire as their own peculiar
3 Baronius, an. 773-4, 799, 800, passim. Annales Rerum Francarum, an. 773–4, 799, 800. Eginhard gives no prominence to his dealings with the Roman See, and only incidentally mentions the imperial coronation. A personal as well as a political tie bound Charlemagne to Pope Adrian, at whose death, according to the exceeding tenderness of his mighty heart, he wept as for a brother or son (Eginhardus, cap. 19, 28).
deed and glory. This transfer has been gainsayed by over-hasty and short-sighted Protestants, who in their eagerness to take down the papacy ever so little, to deny a single assumption and to extenuate a single deed, have done their best to dwarf the bigness of its spiritual perversity and corruption, to impair the awfulness of the papal drama, to spoil one of the most striking scenes and enfeeble one of the most striking lessons of history, to offend against its truest romance and its deepest philosophy.4 It was meet and right for the usurper of Christ's throne to become a giver and taker of earthly thrones, to covet and to confer the kingdoms of this world, with all the power and glory of them, to yield to the allurements and assume the prerogatives of that very tempter whom the heavenly King, whose vicar he professed himself, overcame in the wilderness. It well beseemed the chief of corrupted and secularised Christendom to become the intimate of the Roman Empire, to confer sanctity upon the great secular power of the world, and to claim the disposal thereof. It was essential to heighten and perfect the worldliness of the kingdom which called itself not of this world, that it should confer the imperial crown and receive an Italian principality. An overseer of Christ's flock claimed at once to represent Christ and to create Cæsar, to be a great spiritual prince and a small earthly prince, to be a king and a king-maker. The kingdom of our God and of His Christ hath become a kingdom of this world, and it shall last for so long.' The Christmas-day of 800 is in truth a memorable day in ecclesiastical history.
The man with whom the Roman Church had these dealings,
↑ Flacius Illyricus of Magdeburg, a most elaborate and copious Protestant controversialist, and the chief author of the Centuriæ Magdeburgenses, the earliest of modern church histories, in his learned treatise de Translatione Imperii Romani ad Germanos, Basileæ, 1566, fails in his attempt to prove that this transfer was in no sense a papal work, and herein must yield the victory to Bellarmine, who in his treatise de Translatione Imperii (Opera, 1. i. pp. 1100-1240, Ingolstadt, 1571), though he enormously exaggerates the papal power at that time, yet clearly shows that not without the Roman See was the Holy Roman Empire made over to a Teutonic prince. It is very certain that Charlemagne became lord of the West through his own wisdom and valour and the wisdom and valour of his forefathers; but it is equally certain that he would not have become emperor of the Romans without the aid of Leo III. Eginhard (c. 28), who makes very little of the whole business, ascribes to his hero a great reluctance to accept the imperial dignity. Charles the Great won for himself the dominion of the West; Pope Leo called this dominion the Holy Roman Empire, and professed to invest the conquests of the mighty Teuton with the dignity and reverence which still surrounded the old Roman Empire, as well as with the reverence derived from its later connection with the Christian Church.